Cervical cancer is among the most preventable cancers: pre-cancerous lesions can easily be detected through screening before they become cancer. When screening detects pre-cancerous lesions, these can be treated and cancer avoided. Screening can also detect cancer at an early stage when treatment has a high potential for cure.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of cervical cancer. It is a highly contagious infection that is transmitted through sexual or skin-to-skin contact. Over three quarters of sexually active women get it at some point in their lives. There are over 100 types of HPV, but 2 – types 16 and 18 – cause 70% of cancers. The HPV vaccine is almost 100% effective in preventing the persistent HPV infections that cause cervical cancer.
Despite the advances of screening and vaccinations, today more than 28 000 women die from cervical cancer in the WHO European Region every year. It remains the second most common cancer among women aged 15–44. Given the technology and development levels in the Region, women have a right to be protected from this disease. Introducing the HPV vaccine more widely, in combination with cervical screening, has the potential to save many lives, particularly among younger women.
Coordinated approach to cervical cancer
WHO supports a comprehensive approach to preventing, detecting and treating cervical cancer. This requires providing effective interventions to women throughout their lives, starting in childhood. These interventions include community education, social mobilization, HPV vaccination, screening, treatment and palliative care. To achieve this, national health programmes (particularly for immunization, reproductive health, cancer control and adolescent health), organizations and partners must work together.
Cervical screening (the Pap test) is still needed for women who have been vaccinated, to help prevent the cervical cancers not targeted by the HPV vaccine.